Just a final wrap-up note note about the Minnesota visit. Grand Rapids, population just over 11,000, has a bookstore I’ve come to love over the years for its attention to Nordic Noir. Unfortunately the Village Bookstore is located in a small, and generally failing, mall, so its days may be numbered. But while it is here I am availing myself of the luxury of selecting a healthy stack of probably-want-to-reads, hunkering down in a comfy chair, and making the final selections—usually most of them. You simply cannot duplicate the pleasure of that touchy-feely perusal on line. And I am a stack of books richer for having experienced it. Can’t wait to go to bed tonight and continue tracking the murderer loose in Larvik, southwest of Oslo, with my detective friend William Wisting and his journalist daughter Line (The Hunting Dogs by Jorn Lier Horst). I do order more books than I should on line just because it is so easy—but what if we all do that so much we forever lose our access to real honest-to-god places that exude the love of books and need to be among them? Shop at your local bookstores…independent and B&N…or they’ll disappear and this will be a blander poorer world for the loss.
Title Quote: “She’d become an English major for the purest and dullest of reasons: because she loved to read.” Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot.
Holiday. Reading. Leaving just enough time for sleeping, eating, blogging, visiting, and buying shoes.
Remember my ever-so earnestly focused reading list on Wyoming, Utah, and points east in Asia. All thoughtfully planned and well-intentioned, and all of which I dedicatedly pursued until…reaching my destination in the north woods and official vacation time.
First night here I picked up Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime. Perfect choice. I’m a fan of Noah’s and have some small knowledge of Johannesburg so the book was engaging on both levels. Noah probably isn’t a great writer but he’s better than just good, mostly because his comedic charm shows through often, and because he appears to have been pretty forthright in relating the good, bad, and ugly of his circumstances and his response to them. Life is tough in the townships and suburbs of Jo’burg for everyone and for a mixed-race kid who didn’t really fit within the Coloured community there were some additional snags. If you enjoy Noah’s show or standup routines, you’ll love this book.
I’ve moved on now to Heroes of the Frontier by Dave Eggers (remember A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius?). The official hype says this is “the darkly comic story of a mother and her two young children on a journey through an Alaskan wilderness plagued by wildfires and a uniquely American madness.” I am pretty sure this is a seriously good book. Even this far along I know Josie and her kids, Paul and Ana, are people with whom I want to share a journey. Eggers has introduced them as utterly charming, more than a little peculiar, and reluctantly adventurous (with the exception of tiny Ana who’s an unadulterated adventurer). I finished Bill Bryson’s The Lost Continent a couple of weeks ago, enjoying Bryson’s travelogue snide and often hilarious descriptions of American sights and ways immensely. Eggers is even better at describing our American strangeness in a way—is it because he’s more subtle or ironic or maybe it’s attention to the odd details that are everywhere? Don’t know…but I love it.
Is there anything in the world better than a book? No, there is not.
Five new books arrived on my doorstep yesterday, two on Utah, two from Wyoming, and one, a new novel about India. Even though my road trip begins in New Mexico and eventually travels through a corner of Nebraska, much of South Dakota and up to northwest Minnesota, the states I’m most excited about traversing are Utah and Wyoming. Utah because I’ve only been in and out of Salt Lake City and Wyoming because…well because…I simply love that state.
There’s just enough time before next Saturday to somehow get through four books…and it helps if you realize right away that one can be skipped—that would be The Executioner’s Song (Norman Mailer’s Pulitzer Prize winner which all takes place in Utah). Gary Gilmore, the executed murderer of the title was a completely unlikeable person whom I choose not to spend a perfectly good week with at this point in time. I know…
Being too wordy usually means throwing way too many many unnecessary words into one written piece. Like that. I suppose it could also mean always wanting to write—all those words you’ve absorbed over the years trying to get out? In my case, it appears to be both. Apparently I have too many adjectives and adverbs clogging my system and they escape onto every screen or page whenever there’s an opening. And then there’s the problem of nothing seeming real to me until I’ve written it down. Talking doesn’t help. I am not very articulate. Only writing eases the word bloat.
What to blame for this surfeit of words? Books of course; there are never too many to read or buy or touch or view or ponder or desire.
I have been writing a book. Or rather the first third of a book. Right now it’s being reviewed by my literary friends. Then it will go to a professional reviewer. After that, I’ll weep, edit excessively, and determinedly move on to write new chapters. Writing this seriously has been the most painful and pleasurable thing I’ve ever done. It took me well into my UCLA certificate program to gather the courage to approach this with earnest intent. I’ve finished the program…that old “I’m a writer” rubber is hitting the road. Wish me luck.
Meanwhile it is time to start blogging about my upcoming 2017 trips. From whence I derive the most joy. Blogging is brilliant, especially when fairly casual. Writing about travel, writing about books, sometimes about grandchildren and new recipes! In the future blogging about my history and my age. What could possibly be more fun than the latter? Blogging as I do it is ‘writing lite’, the best of all worlds if one is lazy and wordy.
This post is the first of a series about the reading I’m doing (or sadly, in some cases, just planning to do—but won’t) for my summer/fall 1) Road Trip and 2) Another Big Big Trip to the other side of the world…and farther.
At this point in time I’m in that stage when the outlines of the trips have been determined, and in the case of the international trip, the airline tickets purchased. That’s where my reading list is focused. It makes a great deal of difference to my engagement with and excitement about all of the places along the way if I have some knowledge of the history, geography, culture and customs. So I know the whats and whys and whereofs of all that’s about me. I’m not talking about scholarly research or needing in-depth knowledge—although I always mean to try for a little of that—I’m simply talking about a good history/adventure story/novel/murder mystery or two or three.
The countries to explore through words and in person: New Zealand, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Nepal, India. Not so many really but of such world-impact that hundreds of books could not cover them. Particularly India, but also Southeast Asia’s Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar. Nepal because I can. New Zealand because travel buddy, Teresa, who’ll go adventuring in Vietnam with me, lives there.
The Book Worm Chronicles start here:
I read The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen last year. It is quite possibly the best book I’ve read in a very long time. He has two new books of essays out which I will order the minute I post this. Teresa, who was not born until some years after the Vietnam War ended, is as in love with The Sympathizer as I am—and as it should be. Without some knowledge of what’s gone before how should we consider ourselves responsible citizens? A rhetorical question of course with history nearly banished from all education.
Finished Around India in 80 Trains by Monisha Rajesh last night. Delightful, especially since I plan to spend much of my 10 or so days in India on trains. It is great fun to read, although naming and riding on 80 trains for one short book got a little heavy on the naming angle, while I would have liked just a few more details about the various stops…still she accomplished a major task, the kind of thing I would like to do, and she’s a good writer and good person with whom to go train-about.
Enough for one post. I’ll return with many more books and my progress reports. If you have suggestions please let me know.
I’m taking a sabbatical from book club to make my second serious stab at writing a real book, one with its own ISBN number, one for which some amount of money will change hands. I tried this once before, but when my enthusiasm lagged and it became obvious that only about a third of what I was writing was any good, i.e. readable, I stopped—thinking that I had a lifetime to finish! So Marjorie, I say to myself, that deadline is soon upon me (well not soon-soon but you know what I mean) and if I’m ever to have my name associated with an ISBN number it had better be now. Sadly they don’t give graduate theses those magic numbers or I would already be so anointed.
It would be nice if I were taking a sabbatical from work instead of weekly reading seminars—or, as I fondly refer to it, the Literary Lawyers Book Club (the group actually has a most erudite name which I find hard to remember). Since my fellow readers are all lawyers I’m trying to fit in by taking a Coursera introductory law course from the University of Pennsylvania—memorizing key legal phrases; for example, if the subject of transsubstantivity comes up, I’ll be able to respond knowingly. Finally. I’ve wondered about that for years…
I do enjoy this club a lot…as described earlier it’s an eclectic mix of literary seminar, bookish salon without a hip dress-code, and weekly political gnashings of teeth. I’ve already been introduced to two most interesting writers, previously unread by me. Don DeLillo and Paul Beatty. These discoveries have been passed on, in the case of Underworld, to my engineer granddaughter who is interested in waste, with Beatty’s Sellout going to my techie grandson who loves to argue issues of race with his many-hued and very smart friends.
Today at book club: we agreed The Sellout is brilliant in its own narrow way; Bob offered up Easter chocolates; and my kind friends offered to read the partial manuscript of The Book I must produce by August before I submit it for review. That made me both grateful and nervous…inspired and frightened…challenged and exposed…what if they hate it? So, talking to myself again, I say there (old chap) write it so they cannot possibly hate it. Done.
The Americans and Pussy Riot and those scary Russians—who are our mortal enemies or best friends or…?
The Americans is practically the best show streaming in my humble opinion. Spy story extraordinaire—which some have also called a family drama—dad, mom and the two kids in a pleasant Washington DC suburb. You know the usual family dinners and arguments and getting the homework done. Oh yeah, and then just for a change of pace, there’s the sizzling sex, whizzing bullets, slashed throats; busy genitalia, graphic death all quick and dirty. What’s not to love? Everything your warm and cozy self has ever desired on screen. Besides all the pizza and movie nights, and the scenic sex and vivid violence, the politics of the cold war, the devious dealings on both sides, the mislaid morality whatever the flag, is mesmerizing—and, may I say, worthy of our renewed attention. The first four seasons of The Americans are streaming on Amazon and—good news—two more will be available in the couple of years ahead. Watch this, you’ll feel the little shivery shock you first noticed when House of Cards was brand new.
Moving on with Bad Russians, I mean the Good Russians, Pussy Riot at the KiMo.
Let’s see, Susanna and I drank more wine than we usually do so maybe it just seemed so of-the-present and powerful, and such an important acknowledgement of what happens just before it gets as bad as it can get. One of the young women who were jailed was here and told her story in Russian as her fellow Pussy Rioters performed a sort of punk rock dance and music show. A documentary of the whole incident was screened in the background. The two primary thoughts/facts/fears I came away with: how strong one can be when the need arises, and how we had damn well better pay attention because Putin’s Russia is what our buddies in the White House desire for America. A society of oligarchs playing with the world’s resources, and tamping down on enough liberties so that the people who object can be silenced.
Art in all of its forms is so incredibly absolutely important – which of course is why the Republicans have always been desperate to rid the US of that troublesome occupation/reality/product. Art tells imaginary and TRUE stories, the most dangerous thing that can happen in a dictatorship. So work for ridding the world of Republicans and their ilk wherever they are—and if you decide being a spy is the way to go, be sure your weapons and your body beautiful are up to the challenge.
Soon we’ll be two months into the Turmp (it’s how my typing fingers want to spell its name) Administration. What we should fear more than anything…is happening—it’s normalizing. No good will ever come from this president, cabinet or congress being accepted as normal. So what to do for myself to make sure I do not succumb to finding those faces and voices normal?
First step. Thank Odin (my personal god) for Coursera. I’m taking a course, The Holocaust – An Introduction: Nazi Germany: Ideology,The Jews and the World from Tel Aviv University and Yad Vashem (Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust). It does not matter which political side one is on these days when considering the Israeli/Palestinian situation (I’m personally on the side of the Palestinians anytime settlements come into the picture); very little in the history of world horrors has equaled the Holocaust.
We study the Holocaust in school; at least I’m hoping it’s still studied, but details become blurry over time. This is a good time to revisit the reality of the Holocaust when our new “leader” and his minions seem to reflect a time and ideology we thought we had, at least partially, put behind us.
The class is simply excellent with a professor of great and fluently-shared knowledge who manages to present dispassionately, a story horrific beyond belief. And…hey folks…it came about gradually throughout the 1930s and early 40s. Hitler did not stand up one day in 1933 and say “I intend to take over a big part of the world, kill all of the people whom I personally consider inferior, and leave Germany and much of Europe a bombed out, starving disaster zone.” No, indeed. He just told the German masses it was all about the Germans and that he alone could fix whatever they believed to be broken in their lives, and make Germany pure and great again. And the rest is history, isn’t it?
I so very highly recommend this class; it’s midway through right now but you could still catch up; it will also be offered again.
I named this piece after The Man in the High Castle which I’ve just started watching (what if the Nazis had won WWII is the premise); I planned to watch more but the reviews aren’t great so I’m not sure, and as a result I don’t know if “The Man…” is a good or bad guy. In any case it’s a good title I think.
More later on about bingeing on The Americans (Russian spies!) and starting to reread a very good Jackson biography to see if Turmp is just following in Andrew the Populist’s footsteps, as Melissa McCarthy’s fake stooge Bannon has appeared to claim.
I took these photos around 2005 on a visit to Poland’s Auschwitz Birkenau German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940-1945). I’ve visited the Genocide Museum in Kigali, Rwanda too, and there’s just no way to feel enough at these sites. It seems like we would come away and devote our lives to the ending of racism, xenophobia, hate, genocide but we manage to go back to our normal lives…
OscarLand is not for the faint of heart. I started this year determined to see every Oscar nominee available, host one last Oscar party and then end this not-very-old tradition because it is simply too exhausting. That’s still my goal but in terms of every available…maybe not. However as soon as I wrote that all of my obsessive-compulsive traits came into play and I am once again determined to persist…as we pushy broads are known to do… and see every single available nomination.
Two or three more movie posts and then this fine but unnecessary blog will be put to bed for the foreseeable future. Once again I have new blogging plans. Remember Emerson said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” which I used to love quoting but now with with-what’s-his-name in the white house it doesn’t seem as desirable to be inconsistent. On the other hand the Shyster isn’t at all inconsistent about having seriously stupid and or flawed positions on almost everything. Me though, I’m consistently conflicted about all of these inconsistencies of mine.
Rattling on without having had a wine or two it isn’t so much fun and I hardly ever drink wine anymore…must be all these movies making me crazy.
So where was I? Since the last post I’ve seen hundreds of films including Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion, Captain Fantastic, Florence Foster Jenkins, Life, Animated, and The Salesman. My favorite of the lot was Lion and/or The Salesman; least favorite La La Land.
Let me talk about Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, Florence Foster Jenkins, and Captain Fantastic together because they all represent classic western, feel good or Swiss Family Robinson standards. They are also all either excellent or very close.
Hell or High Water—traditional western, whose predecessors I watched for hundreds of hours at the Royal Theater in Northome, Minnesota. I loved them primarily for the horses galloping over the range land, in pursuit of or chased by the bad guys—now it’s all ratty cars or ragged trucks, not quite the same. Jeff Bridges almost makes up for all of those missing horses though.
Hidden Figures—feel-good movie and true story with important history. About smart smart women who happened to be black subjected to the fragile egos of the white guys surrounding them at NASA. They persisted and resisted in their slyly respectful ways, always with dignity and all the humor they could muster. Octavia Spencer should be a shoo-in for Actress in a supporting role.
Florence Foster Jenkins—another more traditional feel-good flick, and another true story. Opera singer who can’t sing, heart of gold, and so forth and so on. I liked it and of course Meryl (this nomination is for best actress) is always wonderful although Natalie Portman needs the Oscar for this one. Haven’t seen Loving yet so my mind could change.
Captain Fantastic—feel-good, Swiss Family Robinson version. Not even a little bit true story, but far-fetched as it is, it’s most entertaining. The nomination here is for Viggo Mortensen, interesting looking guy and, I’m told, a great actor, but I think I’m going to vote for Andrew or Denzel for best actor after I’ve seen Hacksaw Ridge and Fences.
Life, Animated is a solid documentary, and a good primer for a beginning understanding of autism. It’s not great…13th is great, but it’s definitely worth seeing. On Netflix or Amazon, I forget.
About Lion and The Salesman. I love them both. A lot. Lion is another true story and we get to meet those really involved in the end, a trend I’m coming to enjoy. Lion also has Dev Patel so how could it not be fine, but nominated for a supporting role which is quite odd since he is certainly the main character in this epic search movie. Long story short, small boy gets lost, is transported thousands of kilometers from his home, survives on the street, is adopted by a loving Australian couple, grows up, searches for and finds his mother. It’s dubbed a survival tale which fits as well as my putting it in some sort of travel category. And Dev Patel should probably get Actor in a supporting role…or should Ali, or Bridges, or Hedges. Everyone in this category is brilliant…although haven’t seen (or heard of until now) Nocturnal Animals.
The Salesman is Iran’s contribution in the foreign film category. A tale of suspense. Wait that’s not quite right. I scanned several reviews trying to figure out where The Salesman was filmed. Here’s what one says: Some descriptions of “The Salesman” call it a thriller, suggesting a Hollywood-style suspense film. It’s not. It’s a psychological and moral drama about how one man’s anger and damaged self-image drive him to the brink of destroying the very thing he ostensibly most wants to protect: his marriage. I couldn’t find out where it was filmed but I’m hoping it was Tehran because part of the reason I like foreign films is because they’re a glimpse of another time and place. There are many excellent reviews of this and the director Asghar Farhadi’s other work. It’s in the top four or five of my favorites for this year I think.
Okay then. La La Land. I’m a fan of Los Angeles and this is a nice sightseeing trip around a city that never gets credit for being as interesting as it is. Also Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are really really good looking. One son loves this movie and one granddaughter hates it. Call them if you want to know more.
1917 (I MEANT 2017 OF COURSE but 1917 witnessed two Russian Revolutions, U.S. entered WWI and J.Edgar Hoover went to work in the Justice Department so maybe it’s a model) is already a completely crazy year and only a month has passed. Much of this of course is due to the-shyster-at-the-top, maybe all of it, even the things that don’t seem directly attributable. Yesterday the post office lost my package (the all-important blog-book of my 2015 travels), then found it. I lost my phone, made trips back to the office and finally, in desperation, bought a clock and took a pill to sleep. Back at work this morning, I found the rascal tucked into a big fat file in another office. I blame the shyster for already destabilizing the post office and for adding a massive layer of stress to my life that makes bad things happen—never mind the actual death and destruction he’s determined to bring forth. There that’s all out of my system for a few hours.
About films and books. There are already a million reviews out there of everything…why am I writing about them on an obscure blog read by 12. Silly (just realized I can’t use these one word sentences anymore because guess who’s the master of one word sentences and I do not want to resemble that slimy-creature-from-the-black-lagoon in any way).
I think adding a few more posts about my 2017 movie marathon is okay but then it’s time to…once again…put this blog on a long, possibly forever, hiatus. A few words about The Eagle Huntress, Jackie, and Manchester by the Sea. The Eagle Huntress was one of the docs mentioned for Oscar consideration and, according to me, should have made the final cut. A Mongolian girl wants to be an eagle hunter, a vocation usually reserved for males. Her family supports her completely, especially her father who teaches her everything he knows. She makes it. This is a documentary put together with more than the usual amount of love given the struggle it must have taken to film; it is an authentically heart-warming tale in a grand and glorious landscape. I loved it for all the filmic and scenic reasons, and I loved it because I was in Mongolia in 2015 for a few days—out on the steppes in a yurt. That made the story a little bit mine didn’t it?
Couldn’t every one of us around 70 years old, or a little less or a little more, write a book about that day in 1963 when Camelot came to its bloody end? On November 22nd, 1963, I was at my friend Betty Jo’s apartment in North Branch, Minnesota with three-year-old son Scott. I was staying with mom and dad up north while waiting for orders to join my husband in the Philippines. Baby Steven was home with mom so I was on a holiday of sorts. Betty Jo and I had probably put our boys down for naps so we could watch As the World Turns… and turn it did. Some time into everybody’s favorite soap, Walter Cronkite appeared with news that the President had been injured and then “President Kennedy died at 1pm Central Standard Time.” Camelot was over. But in Camelot, Camelot/Those are the legal laws./The snow may never slush upon the hillside./By nine p.m. the moonlight must appear./In short, there’s simply not/A more congenial spot/For happily-ever-aftering than here/In Camelot. Not true it seems.
Jackie is a remarkable piece of filmmaking. Somehow Pablo Larrain, director, and Natalie Portman “Jackie” have made a film that has brought back every emotion I’ve ever felt about that day in the form of a dark drama both revealing and so seemingly true in its mix of sorrow and anger, weakness and strength. I was transported, partly because of course I was there—an adult, alive, watching, disbelieving, horror-stricken that it could be happening in America, and so very sad because I loved JFK. I also believe this film could make that day real for the first time to generations since who have grown up with shooting as the all-American sport and aren’t even shocked that this could happen. So far Jackie’s my favorite but then I haven’t seen so many of the Hollywood nominees yet. I’m sure it also has something to do with how intimately that day still plays out for me.
Manchester by the Sea is atmospheric…the best visual depiction of small snowy towns in the north of the country I’ve seen. It looked like January Minnesota and I felt every cold nose, cold toes, and painful ear lobes. Let me also say that Casey Affleck is the best brooder I’m ever seen on screen (although Natalie Portman does that well too). I almost loved this movie—it’s powerful in story, acting and cinematography. Maybe the reason I say “almost” is because I’m not so very partial to brooding, sensitive, fucked-up loser stories. These (usually) guys are so grungy and rude and reliant on “fuck” to get their point across—I understand this is a type appealing to many but honestly, I find sensitive troubled guys with clean jeans, a PhD, and extensive vocabulary more appealing.
Back to blogland and the movies. It’s Sunday night and I’ve just spent a perfect day. There’s Sunday morning book club—not your everyday normal book club, and then heading off to Manchester (by the Sea) which wasn’t far enough away so I moved on to Antarctica before running out of energy and returning home to leftover gluten-free pizza and morning’s warmed up coffee.
Where was I in the Movie Marathon before dropping out for some life things (such as the March in DC and work and sleep)? The goal as usual is to see all of the nominated Hollywood and foreign films and documentaries before the Oscars. I’m not so far along but February is movie-binge month and the chance to catch up. Before the small hiatus I managed Moonlight and A Man Called Ove, both among the nominees, and Queen of Katwe, not nominated but definitely worth seeing. I did talk about them already at https://mneset.com/2016/11/20/avoiding-the-real-world-not-really/.
Here are my latest movie stories, and stories they are. I’m not film-savvy enough to write actual critiques but since I love stories I can comment from that perspective. The best theaters for the best stories (in my opinion) are the Guild, a small arthouse on Central Avenue focusing on foreign, cult and far-from-mainstream films and documentaries, and High Ridge, an older theater/semi-arthouse on the east side of town showing the more interesting of Hollywood films along with a few foreign films and docs as well. Both theaters have a following, but especially the Guild which comes as close to having a brother who’s a serious film aficionado and shows movies every night in his living room as you can get (without that particular brother). It’s really the best of all film experiences to hang out there on a Sunday afternoon which is what I did yesterday for Antarctica: Ice & Sky: “… a stirring portrait of French glaciologist, Claude Lorius, whose groundbreaking research in Antarctica gave us the first clear evidence of man-made global climate change…Through remarkable archival footage and stunning drone cinematography, Antarctica: Ice and Sky is an epic tale where science and adventure meet, equal parts contemplative memoir and an ardent call to action.”
I am almost positive that in a previous life I was an Arctic/Antarctic explorer or perhaps a polar bear or an iceberg or at the very least an Antarctic Midge. My love for and interest in the cold ends of the globe has increased exponentially over the last years. Three young people were sitting just behind me, one having returned from work in Antarctica in the not too distant past, so I butted in on their conversation just to name drop Greenland and express my love of all things ice. As a result another person talked to me on the way out about my desire to go to Antarctica; they were lovely small town exchanges one never has at the multiplexes.
To be continued with observations about my Sunday morning book club/salon, The Eagle Huntress, Jackie, and Manchester by the Sea. I would talk about The Lobster as well but it’s too painful to think about this early in the morning…in case you were thinking about checking it out for free on Amazon or Netflix…it is not worth the price.